Guest Post: The “Dark Side” to Moving Across the World for Love

I’m excited to run this guest post from Grace Mineta of the fantastic blog Texan in Tokyo (if you haven’t discovered her insightful and entertaining blog yet, you’re missing out). Grace just successfully funded a kickstarter project for her book “My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy: The Comic Book” in only three days!

Today she reflects on something that many of us know all too well, but are often afraid to write about (myself included) — the dark side of moving across the world for someone you love. 

Have something to say (and share) on Speaking of China, just like Grace? Check out my submit a post page for details on how to get your guest post published here.

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Interracial relationships are complicated. So are intercultural relationships. I don’t think I fully understood the complexity until I entered my own – and it’s a bit difficult trying to explain to other American friends with absolutely no knowledge of Asian culture why no, we can’t just “put my husband’s parents in an old-folks home once they lose mobility.”

Or when my husband has to try to explain to his coworkers that “no, my wife probably will not quit her job when she gets pregnant. She loves working. I might transition to part-time work and be a stay-at-home dad instead.”

Grace and Ryosuke Mineta

You see, as wonderful, exciting, and educational an intercultural relationship is, there is also a deep, dark side to moving across the world, for the sake of love. It can be isolating. You have to compromise about subjects you didn’t even think were ‘on the table,’ so to speak. You will both make mistakes.

After reading Susan’s recent memoir “The Good Chinese Wife,” I decided I wanted to write a guest post for Speaking of China about the dark side to moving across the world for love.

And, of course, if you’re really interested in daily life in Japan as a foreigner, you should check out my book “My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy: The Comic Book.”

It is an autobiographical memoir about my life as a white, Texan freelancer married to a Japanese businessman, living in Tokyo. It covers intercultural and interracial relationships, in a funny, light-hearted way.

Texan in Tokyo comics

Enough of the good, let’s talk about bad.

Here are the top 6 elements that make up the “dark side” of moving across the world for love:

1. You can become almost pathetically dependent on your spouse

My husband and I have lived in both Japan and Texas, with a vast majority of our time spent in Tokyo. We spent two months in America together before the wedding, and another month and a half in Texas after the wedding.

We had a wonderful time, but we also had some problems. Ryosuke couldn’t drive a car in America. He was completely dependent on me and, on days when I had a freelance project due, he was left walking my sister’s dog, Bo, around the neighborhood for hours, since he had nowhere else to go.

Thankfully, in Tokyo I can get anywhere by train/bus. However, there are times, like when I’m trying to open a bank account, file a health insurance form, or figure out some obscure Japanese law when I am completely dependent on my husband.

I’m lucky that I have my own job and can speak Japanese pretty fluently… but even so, I still get frustrated.

2. Visas, bureaucracy, and a lot of red tape

I went to the immigration office seven times to get a visa. Seven times. My visa was rejected for all sorts of stupid and illogical reasons (Not enough time left on my tourist visa, one form was improperly dated, the visa I was applying for didn’t exist, “waiting to apply for a spouse visa” was not a valid reason to extend my current tourist visa… the list goes on).

One incredibly unhelpful lady at the Tachikawa immigration office told me “Go back to America, wait a couple of months, and apply for a visa there.” When I told her I couldn’t afford to just ‘go back to America,’ she suggested I go to Korea instead (since it’s “cheaper”) and then called up the next person in line.

Now I have a valid, working visa in Japan.

However, I know other women who are not able to work on their spousal visas in their husband’s countries… and it’s hard.

3. Finding a good career “in your field” is incredibly difficult

I love writing, but I never wanted to be a writer. I wanted to work for local government. Or at an NGO.

Unfortunately, it is incredibly difficult to find a job in my field in Japan. I either don’t have enough experience, can’t make the proper time commitment, can’t speak Japanese well enough, or can’t afford to commit to 40 hours of work (unpaid, no stipend for food/travel) for at least 16 months at my dream NGO.

Hence the reason I am a freelance writer, blogger, and English teacher.

I don’t love the work, but it pays the bills and gives me something to do. In my spare time, I get to blog, draw comics, and volunteer at a local orphanage.

I can’t count the number of women I know who moved abroad with their husband, expecting to find a career in their field in a couple of months… only to wind up frustrated, disappointed, and underemployed.

4. Insecurity is normal

On one of our larger fights a couple months ago, I asked my husband why he didn’t just marry a nice Japanese girl. “She would be able to talk to your family without any problems,” I told him, “and she would be better at housework (or, like, actually agree to do housework. I’ve met so many Japanese girls who love cleaning. I hate it. Ugh.)”

“I don’t want to marry a ‘Japanese girl!'” he shouted back. “Or an ‘American girl!’ I just want to be married to you!”

A lot of our friends are Japanese. When we have house parties or go on double dates, I often find myself toning out what the other people are saying. Speaking in Japanese all day makes my head hurt… and I start to feel out of depth.

Texan in Tokyo comic about the telephone

When nearly all of our friend’s wives quit their jobs after marriage, clean the house every day, wake up early in the morning to cook their husband breakfast, do laundry every day, and always keep the house presentable, clean, and well-stocked with food, it’s hard not to get insecure.

I still stand by everything I wrote in my last guest post on Speaking of China, “7 of the Best Things about Being Married to a Non-Native English Speaker.”

And thankfully, my husband doesn’t expect me to be a “Good Japanese Wife.” If he did… well, I would probably go crazy. And we would yell at each other more.

5. You might have to re-evaluate your priorities and compromise on some tough issues

This one is pretty self-explanatory.

Just remember that arguments are an essential part of any healthy relationship and they provide a great way to broaden your horizons and re-evaluate your priorities.

6. You will be isolated

When we first moved back to Tokyo, we spent the first couple months living with his parents in Ibaraki, an incredibly rural prefecture next to Tokyo.

In the first couple months I had no job (I was still battling the immigration office), no English speaking friends, and no connection to the ‘outside world.’

I fell into a deep, dark depression that lasted for several months. I cried a lot. I started losing weight (not in the good way). I watched my friends from college go off and get amazing jobs… and just felt worse about myself.

Then we moved out. We saved enough to get out own place, in central Tokyo. I got a visa and picked up a couple part-time jobs. I made a bunch of new friends.

Texan in Tokyo comic about the beach

I still had cultural problems from time-to-time, but instead of being a sad reminder of how “foreign” I was, they started being kind of funny.

I wrote a comic book, “My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy,” that ended up being wildly successful.

I have a ‘sort of’ career now.

Of course, I still feel isolated from time-to-time. But I’m learning how to deal with it. 

Grace Mineta

Author Bio:

Grace Buchele Mineta is a native Texan, founder of the blog “Texan in Tokyo,” and author of the autobiographical comic book, “My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy.” She lives in Tokyo with her husband, Ryosuke, where she blogs and draws comics about their daily life.

My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy: The Comic Book” is the autobiographical misadventures of a native Texan freelancer and her Japanese “salaryman” husband – in comic book form. From earthquakes and crowded trains, to hilarious cultural faux pas, this comic explores the joys of living and working abroad, intercultural marriages, and trying to make a decent pot roast on Thanksgiving.

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Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts and love stories! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.

Guest Post: 7 of the Best Things about being married to a Non-Native English Speaker

I’m so thrilled to share this fantastic guest post from Grace Mineta of Texan in Tokyo, one of my favorite AMWF blogs. If you haven’t discovered her blog, you’re missing out on one of the best reads in the blogosphere. Thanks so much to Grace for this outstanding submission!

Want to be like Grace and have your voice featured on Speaking of China? Visit my submit a post page for details.

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The fact that my husband is a native Japanese speaker is part of the reason we get along so well.

I have a small confession to make – my partner and I look nothing alike. For one, he’s a man and I’m not. So his hair is closely shaved, while my is long and flowing; his muscles, feet, and hands are larger than mine. But those aren’t the differences people usually notice. My husband is Asian (from Japan) and I am white (from Texas).

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And like most Japanese people, he is not a native English Speaker. The first time he really took an English class was in cram-school, trying to get into college.

Fast forward six years and his English is advanced enough to quite literally charm my family into letting him marry me and whisk me off to Japan. And aside from not quite being able to understand what the characters from BBC’s Sherlock are saying without subtitles (mostly because he can’t understand British English), my husband Ryosuke doesn’t have any problems with English.

It’s totally not weird to walk in on him pouring over the Steve Job’s Biography (in English) while taking extensive notes (in Japanese) on how to become a “more awesome person, like Jobs.”

But he is not a native English speaker.

And I really, really love the fact that he is not a native English speaker because:

1. He never gets onto me for my atrocious spelling.

A large part of my income comes from my blog, “Texan in Tokyo.” I write about interracial marriage, living in Japan as a foreigner, and other “neat” things about Japan.

But, as commenters point out time and time again, I cannot spell to save my life. I also have problems with grammar.

I was hanging out with a friend yesterday and we were semi-talking about my blog. I brought up the spelling mistakes, and she was just like “Yeah, they’re everywhere, but at least you know you have horrible spelling and grammar. Some people have absolutely no idea.”

I understand it is somewhat shameful for a blogger to not be able to type up even a short, simple post without extensively relying on Microsoft Word Spell-Check… but hey. That’s me.

Even when typing the title for this section, I spelt atrocious like “attrocious.”

But Ryosuke never gets onto me for spelling or grammar.

And I used to think it was because his English wasn’t advanced enough to be able to point out mistakes in English, but it is. If he wanted to, he could do it. He just chooses not to. Or, more specifically, he chooses not to correct my grammar and my spelling.

He loves me. I love him. He doesn’t correct my spelling/grammatical mistakes and I don’t correct his various mistakes (unless it’s for a professional purpose, essay, or cover letter). It is glorious.

2. I could listen to his accent all day

Back in high school, I used to be all on board with “British and French accents are the sexiest things in the world.” Not anymore. Of course, British and French accents are still attractive (as are African accents, I’ve come to realize), but Ryosuke’s accent takes the cake.

Ryosuke’s classically Japanese accent is the most adorable and sexiest thing in the entire world. I could just listen to him talk all day. In fact, I would be able to listen to him talk all day if only I could learn to shut up every once and a while…

[For more, check out: Asian Man/White Woman Relationships- The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly]

3. It is very easy to condition my husband to say the things I like.

When you’re learning another language, you have a tendency to parrot the people around you. For instance, if you are learning English and your friend always says “awesome” to everything, you might start saying “awesome” to everything too.

I like certain words over other words. I think the way the words “fantastic,” “fabulous,” “futile,” “phenomenal,” and “thrilling” roll of the tongue. (Now that I’m writing them out, I realize I might have a fetish for words that begin with an “f”.)

Ryosuke’s vocabulary closely mirrors my own. He calls me fabulous, says my writing is fantastic, my attempts to get him to watch “New Girl” with him are futile, my eyes are phenomenal, and hanging out with me is thrillingly fantastic. He doesn’t have the same kind of attachment I have for English words. To him, anything works. And gradually, over time, his vocabulary has been filled with fantastically wonderful words that I like.

In a similar manner, my speech closely resembles his when I speak Japanese. It used to make my college professor so angry – she thought Ryosuke was “ruining my pretty Japanese.” He probably did.

But that’s what happens when you spend extensive amounts of time with someone. You begin to mirror their mannerisms – especially speech. Now, both Ryosuke and I sound like socially awkward (but somewhat sophisticated) adults when we speak English and like comedic 15 year old boys when we speak Japanese.

4. We get to make up our own words.

The benefit of always learning new words in a foreign language is that it is surprisingly easy to slip in some new, invented words, just for fun. Ryosuke and I often switch between Japanese and English when we talk – and so we’ve come up with a whole list of words that are a mix between the two languages, conveying something that is difficult or complicated to explain.

For example “Sappuri” means “Surprisingly Samui (cold).” We use it when it’s a lot colder outside than we expected. Or the wind is surprisingly cold.

5. We always have our own language to fall back on.

Between our made up words and the constant switching between English and Japanese, Ryouske and I have our very own language. And having your own language is an important tool that facilitates intimacy and closeness – even when you’ve spent the last three days in close proximity with family.

We don’t have to censor what we say around my family and his family – because if it’s a serious concern, awkward question, or inappropriate (or funny) comment, we can use our partner’s language.

6. Our “Spot the ‘Engrish’” Games have a whole other side to them.

One of my favorite things to do is go to the 100yen shops (like the Japanese equivalent of a $1.00 shop, but much cooler and much less sketchy than American dollar stores) and laugh at the misplaced “Engrish” on the products.

Ryosuke enjoys the game as well. We will drive around all afternoon chatting, finding funny English, and eating peach jelly.

However, Ryosuke is also good at explaining why certain things ended up the way they did. He adds a whole extra level to the game – because as a native Japanese speaker who learned English, he can understand why native Japanese speakers who do not understand English write the things they do.

7. When we argue, we don’t get caught up in exactly what the other person is saying.

Our arguments aren’t a “he said, she said” battle. Of course he says socially unacceptable things while we fight – and in the beginning, I used fly off the handle at some of the socially unacceptable things he said.

Now we’ve learned to focus more on what the other person is feeling, rather than what they say. Our arguments are a “safe space” where you don’t have to worry about the other person freaking out if you accidentally say the wrong thing.

[For more, check out: Fighting – Things My Japanese Husband and I Culturally Disagree About]

It’s not fair to Ryouske to fight with complicated words and hidden meanings. We have to be very clear. And oddly enough, that has helped us both be much more honest when it comes to disagreements. He doesn’t have to worry about accidentally saying the wrong thing and I don’t have to worry about loaded up my words with hidden meanings.

Being married to a non-native English speaker is incredibly fun and always interesting. This cross-cultural relationship has opened me up to a whole new way to look at “language,” itself – which is kind of fitting because I write so much.

But then again, I’m partial because I am terribly in love with my husband.

Grace Mineta is a blogger, freelance writer, and fashionista in Tokyo. Married to her college sweetheart, Ryosuke, she spends most of her time hiking, drawing comics, and trying to navigate life as the American wife to a Japanese businessman.

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Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts and love stories! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.

Dana Sachs Interview: The Secret of the Nightingale Palace

Author Dana Sachs (photo by Cornel Faddoul)

Of all the memoirs by Western women who loved Asian men (and wrote about it), The House on Dream Street by Dana Sachs remains one of my favorites. The writing is exquisite, but more importantly she shares her own vulnerabilities on the page and becomes one of the most delightful narrators I’ve ever encountered.

So imagine my excitement when I discovered that Dana came out with a new novel this year called The Secret of the Nightingale Palace featuring not one, but two stories about Asian men and white women falling in love. The romance at the heart of this novel — which relates to its intriguing title — just stole my heart away. Plus, the book explores a side of World War II that we all too often forget — the US internment of Japanese Americans.

I’m thrilled and honored to have this opportunity to interview Dana Sachs about The Secret of the Nightingale Palace.

Dana is also the author of  the novel If You Lived Here and the nonfiction narrative The Life We Were Given: Operation Babylift, International Adoption, and the Children of War in Vietnam, and co-authored the book Two Cakes Fit for a King: Folktales from Vietnam along with Nguyen Nguyet Cam and Bui Hoai MaiBoth The House on Dream Street and If You Lived Here were chosen as Book Sense Picks.

You can learn more about Dana by visiting her website, her Facebook fan page, or her Twitter stream. Continue reading “Dana Sachs Interview: The Secret of the Nightingale Palace”